Opinions & Views

Twisting & Turning Totalitarianism

As the year in which George Orwell's masterpiece was set approached, a wave of critics, eulogists, and scavengers emerged. 1984 is a work hard to attack directly, though that has been done, and some who profess to be praising Orwell's work would really prefer to bury it. E. L. Doctorow, in a recent Playboy article, provides a specimen of the latter. So do some of the participants in Irving Howe's provocative anthology, 1984 Revisited, a work,with the exceptions of few short­comings, that tends to be intellectually respectable. Most of the contributions to this collection–notably those by Leszek Kolakowski, Robert Nisbet, Richard Lowenthal, Bernard Avishai, and Howe himself–are excellent. It is hard to say the same for the essays of Michael  Walzer, Mark Crispin Miller, and some others, as they represent attempts to warp Orwell's insights for their own purposes, or even out of exis­tence. Among other things, they seek to destroy the distinction between totali­tarianism and authoritarianism in which Orwell himself believed. (The more ex­treme cases even try to erase the distinc­tion between to talitarianism and democracy.) Indirectly, they seek to reduce Orwell's work to a cold-war polemic­ which some snide leftist critics have al­ways insisted it was.

There is no doubt that Orwell based 1984 primarily on his...

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